The Varina Davis Trail Stop #7 – Abbeville and the Burt – Stark House
Abbeville was the destination sought by both Jeff and Varina Davis, it was here they were trying to reach on their route south from Richmond, Virginia. Though Federal troops appear to have known both their locations and flanked them with troop movements, at no time did they proceed to interfere with their travels, up to reaching Abbeville. See far greater information on their stay in Abbeville by clicking on the Burt – Stark link this page.
Upon arrival by rail in Abbeville, South Carolina, on April 18th, Varina Davis was welcomed into the home of the Armistead Burt family where she and the children remained for twelve days. Captain Parker left Varina Davis and the children in Abbeville. Varina Davis wrote to her husband from Abbeville, “I wish you were safe out of this land.” And of the citizens of Abbeville, she penned a glowing report of their hospitality, “they are all your friends.”
Meanwhile, during her Abbeville visit, Varina Davis received a scare from reports of smallpox in the area. Their youngest child Winnie had not been vaccinated. She carried Winnie to Hohenlinden, (northeast of Willington – Rev. John Oliver Lindsay, by tradition, gave coffee or tea to both Varina and Jeff. His PO in the Census (1860) was Calhoun Mill.), the home of Dr. J. O. Lindsay where the vaccination was performed ”by getting a fresh scab from the arm of a little black child.” The Lindsay home was located near the intersection of present day S.C. Route 28 and Road S-38 in the Belvue community of McCormick County. On April 28th, Varina Davis left Abbeville. She wrote the President that “young Haskell insists on my going to his father’s (Charles T. Haskell’s) plantation, Charlie’s Hope, which was in the Flatwoods east of Mt Carmel) in the morning to take lunch, and his carriage to Washington. He has been more than polite to me…so have all the people here…it is like old times.”
Resuming their flight, the Varina Davis party drove through Washington on to Dublin, Georgia, where the President and his remaining government would later catch up with them. (The Making of McCormick County by Bobby Edmonds, p. 253)
She was taken from Abbeville on the 28th of March on a heavy wagon secured from a farmer by Jeff’s Private Sec. assigned to get Varina safely away. A Kentucky judge who was a refugee helped Harrison (Jeff’s sec.) get the wagon and got three Kentucky cavalry to take Varina to Washington GA. The judge’s father-in-law, another refugee (from New Orleans), took Varina’s letter (informing Jeff she was going to GA and he could find her there) to Lafayette Young’s house. (Courtesy of James Gettys – 2019)
The President’s family, it should be understood, had been sent, by his direction, several weeks earlier, from North Carolina southward, and after a delay of some days at Abbeville, South Carolina, had passed through Washington, Georgia, only a day before his own arrival there. They were travelling in ambulances, or wagons, under escort of a few paroled Confederate soldiers. (The True Story Of The Capture Of Jefferson Davis by Major W. T. Walthall)
Varina left Abbeville, S.C. trying to make her way further south toward perhaps going to Cuba or Texas. However, shortly after reuniting with her husband in Ga., they were all together when Union forces caught them at a roadside camp in Georgia in May 1865. As federal soldiers called out for them to surrender, Jefferson tried to escape. He put on a raincoat, and she threw a shawl over his head; as he crept into the woods, Varina explained to the troops that it was her mother. A federal soldier realized that this tall person was the Confederate President, and as he raised his gun to fire, Mrs. Davis threw herself in front of her husband and probably saved his life. (The press reported that he had been captured in woman’s clothes, which was not quite accurate.) Jefferson was arrested and taken to Fort Monroe, Virginia, and she was put under house arrest in Savannah, Georgia. After several months, she was allowed to go. Immediately she began lobbying for her spouse’s release, and when the government permitted it, she visited him in prison. The Andrew Johnson administration, and the Republican Party, could not decide what to do with Jefferson, so in 1867 he was released on bail. He never went to trial, and he never swore allegiance to the United States government. (Varina H. Davis Essentials by Joan E. Cashin)
THE ABBEVILLE COURTHOUSE
City Directories and History: This handsome building was constructed in 1908 with extensive
renovations in 1964. It was designed by Edwards & Walter, Architects and constructed by contractor – Frederick Minshall of Abbeville in 1908. The renovations were conducted by Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle and Wolf of Columbia, S.C.
Constructed in 1908 to replace an earlier courthouse destroyed by fire, the Abbeville County Courthouse is one of six existing courthouses in South Carolina designed by Darlington native William Augustus Edwards of the Atlanta firm of Edwards and Walter. Frederic Minshall of Abbeville was the contractor. As with Edwards’ other county courthouses, Abbeville’s incorporates heraldic devices and symbols of justice to emphasize the symbolic role of county government. Edwards used colossal orders, formal symmetry, fasces, escutcheons, lions’ heads, swords, tomes and other explicit or implied symbols of law, reason, truth and power in his courthouses, and many of these features are evident in the Abbeville County Courthouse. The courthouse is a monumental two-story brick building located on Abbeville’s public square, and is connected with a brick arcade to the adjacent Opera House and Municipal Office Building. It was built in the Beaux-Arts classical style. A projecting entrance pavilion characterizes the façade with a colossal Ionic portico in antis of stone construction. The portico has two pair of unfluted stone columns, with Scamozzi capitals, which support a full entablature. A broad brick attic story rises above the entablature, and this story bears a stone course inscribed “ABBEVILLE COUNTY COURT HOUSE.” The courthouse underwent restoration in 1964 by Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle, and Wolff of Columbia and falls within the Abbeville Historic District. Listed in the National Register October 30, 1981. [Courtesy of the SC Dept. of Archives and History]
Another key building is the Abbeville Courthouse, also on the town square. Constructed in 1908, the Courthouse was designed by William Augustus Edwards, a native South Carolinian who excelled in the design of large scale public and educational buildings and six of whose South Carolina county courthouses have been listed in the National Register. (The other five are in Dillon, York, Lee county’s court house in Bishopville, Calhoun county’s in St. Matthews and Jasper county’s in Ridgeland.) Still another key Abbeville building, just off the square, is Trinity Episcopal Church, a remarkably fine example of Gothic Revival architecture, designed by George E. Walker of Columbia. Its memorials identify early communicants with such South Carolina family names as Burt, Calhoun, Gary, Cheves, Haskell, Lee, McGowan, Wardlaw and DuBose (the last for the Rev. Dr. William Porcher DuBose, who was rector from 1868-1871 and later dean of the theological seminary at the University of the South, Sewanee). (Information from: Names in South Carolina by C.H. Neuffer, Published by the S.C. Dept. of English, USC)
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